Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reflections on reflections

The word reflection comes from the Latin: from re, meaning back, and flectere, to bend; literally, a bending or turning back, whether of thoughts, images, or light rays.

My fellow photographer friend Barbara came to spend a day with me on Friday, and happened to mention how much she loved photographing reflections.

I happen to know that both Barbara and I are Cancers, water signs; our birthdays are only three days apart. And so my first thought was, well, of course we both love reflections -- it's all part of our mutual love for water -- and I promptly forgot her remark.

But as I was wandering through my images from the midwest trip this morning (I'm still trying to throw out all the ones I'll never use) I came upon this one, and I liked it SO much more than the other ones around it that Barbara's remark floated back into my head, and I found myself wondering why reflections are so important to me -- especially since I had finally gotten out with my camera yesterday on my quest to photograph light, and much of the light I photographed was really reflections of light (in windows, car doors, floors and the like).

Is it just that, like my daughter, I really really like shiny surfaces? I suspect there's some of that in there. But I also think that objects become more abstract, less categorizable, less readily identifiable when they are reflected. And I realize that's one of the things we talked about and worked on during the Miksang workshop: the importance of seeing -- however briefly -- without immediately labeling; the importance of staying open to the whole of what's calling you.

For me, the reflection serves as a way to draw me in to that open space, where I can begin to wonder. A reflection like this one doesn't quite fall into that category, of course: you can clearly see that these are trees, clouds and sky. But there is some part of me that sees that row of trees on the right, complete with their reflections, as a single unit; sort of like a row of barbells, or a ladder on its side. And that hint of otherness pulls me into another more open space where I begin to wonder: what would this image look like on its side? What are those stripes across the reflections -- is that fog? Or some kind of algae in the water?

There's not a lot of confusion here -- not like some of the reflections I found in the store windows of Boulder, where I would spot a reflection and not be able to tell what it was or where it was coming from -- but it's enough to hold my attention. And I'm thinking that mental reflections -- which I also (obviously) enjoy -- work the same way. When I am reflecting, I am looking back over something readily identifiable, already seen, and exploring it from a slightly different angle. I may be seeing the way its patterns reappear in the mirror of more recent events, or I may be responding to a hint of past that has cropped up in something more current; a trigger of light, or color, or thought that has sparked some resonance I want to explore. Or I may just be playing with old thoughts, turning them upside down or sideways or backwards to see what new patterns might emerge.

Perhaps it's just about a kind of playful curiosity; a willingness to explore -- and of course, that means it's about flexibility, which comes from that same Latin root word. So it's also about bending; about not being rigid. Which brings me back to these lovely trees, all obviously deeply rooted and grounded, strong and firm -- and yet we know that when the winds come sweeping across this reservoir their flexible strength will allow them to bend without breaking.

So perhaps that is also the purpose of thoughtful reflection: it's a way of not getting stuck in pre-conceived notions; of being open to other possible conclusions. And now I remember that the total joy I found when I was involved in EFM -- the Education for Ministry program that comes out of Sewanee -- was all tied up in the act they called Theological Reflection: looking at Biblical passages through the lens of contemporary experiences, dreams, movies, TV shows... it absolutely fascinated me, and was always a process guaranteed to offer new revelations.

Hmm: something more to reflect upon!


Maureen Doallas said...


I SO enjoy reading your contributions. I do hope you will consider writing a piece about Theological Reflection. One of the issues I struggle with as a noncradle Episcopalian is reconciling the ancient Biblical past to today. I am always looking for the connection.

P.S. Congratulations on your position with ECVA. It is on ECVA that I first "found" your work and I've been following your blog since.


Ann said...

The NPR program Speaking of Faith this week has an interview with John O'Donohue. Here is a link

I have enjoyed your musings on his writing...I was not familiar with him until encountering him in your blog.

Thanks...Ann Rose'